NCAA Women’s Conference Championship Preview!
By Ashlee Buhler for Inside Gymnastics
It feels like just yesterday the college gymnastics season was getting underway despite all the uncertainty surrounding it. Now the postseason is already here, which means conference championships are up first on the calendar. Saturday is set to be an exciting day as conference rivals go head-to-head to claim the coveted conference title and solidify their seeding for regionals.
Here are the meets you will not want to miss!
Big 12 Championships – 2:00 p.m. ET
Oklahoma has simply dominated the Big 12. In fact, they have not lost the conference title since 2012. If the Sooners have a normal performance, they should walk away with the title once again. Although we did see them falter at the beginning of the season with scores such as 195.85 and 196.1, which is almost unheard of for the Sooners in recent years, as the season progressed, they left those performances behind and don’t seem to be looking back. They have lots of talent from gymnasts like Anastasia Webb, Evy Schoepfer, and Katherine Levasseur, who have all brought in huge scores this season. Having Olivia Trautman back on vault and bars, and Ragan Smith back on bars and beam only helps the Sooners case. If the Sooners have an off day, Denver could take advantage of the opportunity. They are ranked 9th nationally and can post a score in the mid 197s with the help of their All-Arounders Lynzee Brown and Jessica Hutchinson. Big performances from Emily Glynn, Rylie Mundell and Alexis Vasquez will also be a crucial if Denver wants to come out on top. Iowa State could also contend and has been improving with each meet. They are coming off a season high 196.825 and have a star in Addy DeJesus who can propel the Cyclones to a big score. Having three Yurchenko 1.5’s on vault (with the potential to have four) will be the biggest advantage for this team.
Big 10 Championships Session 2 – 6:30 p.m. ET
Michigan will be going for their sixth consecutive Big 10 title, which should be a cake walk if they perform the way they have as of late. Michigan is coming off back-to-back record-breaking performances, surpassing 198 both times. With Michigan’s three All-Arounder’s Natalie Wojcik, Sierra Brooks, and Gabby Wilson seemingly having their best seasons yet, the Wolverines will be tough to beat. They will have an advantage on vault, where they debuted a full lineup of 10 start values and posted a 49.800 last weekend. If Michigan can nail their vaults again with a clean performance on the other three events, they will be tough to beat. Minnesota could be Michigan’s biggest threat and will be ready to pounce if Michigan falters. The Gophers have the No. 2 gymnast in the nation on their side, Lexy Ramler, and have strong back up from Ona Loper and Mya Hooten. (All three have scored 10s this season!) But don’t count out the Iowa Hawkeyes, who edged out Michigan for the regular Big 10 season title a few weeks ago. They have been lights out on floor this season which could be where they pick up some extra tenths to sneak ahead if the opportunity arises.
SEC Championships Session 2 – 8:00 p.m. ET
The SEC is the only conference that has four teams ranked in the top 10—talk about competitive! The evening session is likely where the champion will be crowned with No. 1 Florida, No. 4 LSU, No. 8 Alabama and No. 9 Arkansas all capable of bringing in a big performance. Florida will be the favorites to win, however, they could use Trinity Thomas back in the lineup to propel them to a 198 score. (Thomas tweaked her ankle in the warmup against Alabama on March 5). Alyssa Baumann, Nya Reed and Savannah Schoenherr will also be critical to the Gators quest to take the title. LSU has won the last three SEC Championships and will look to defend their title (technically they are still the reigning champs as the event was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID) but will need a complete team performance to knock down Florida at their best. Kiya Johnson and Haleigh Bryant are expected to lead the way for the Tigers, but Alyona Shchennikova can come through with big scores on all four events as well. Alabama and Arkansas could surprise as well if they have the meet of their life, which isn’t too outlandish to think given the way so many teams have stepped it up this season.
The Georgia GymDawgs will not be competing due to positive COVID tests and contract tracing within the program.
Pac 12 Championships Session 2 – 9:00 p.m. ET
For the very first time, the top team heading into Pac 12s will not be Utah or UCLA. After a record-breaking season, it will be Cal who walks into the championship as the top ranked team. In the national rankings they sit first on bars and 5th as a team, which is the highest ranking ever in program history. The Bears have massive scoring potential with Kyana George, Naveah DeSouza, Maya Bordas, and Andrea Li all capable of competing All-Around. The battle should be tight between the Bears and the Utah Utes. With four 10.0 start values on vault, Utah can pick up some valuable tenths by sticking those landings. Their weakest event is bars, where their highest tally this season has been a 49.300 (compared to Cal’s 49.825), so hitting every handstand and sticking every landing is a must for the Utes. They will be led by Maile O’Keefe, who is capable of 9.9 or higher on every event, and Jaedyn Rucker who can go big on vault and floor. This season UCLA has not seen some of the bigger numbers they have grown accustom to but having Norah Flatley back on bars could be a big boost for the team. However, if the Bruins want any chance of taking home the title, they will need to bring in a big number on beam, which is where they have struggled the most this season. They will also need their leaders to be at their best. Margzetta Frazier and Chae Campbell have been solid this season, but Nia Dennis has struggled with her consistency. If she can put together a complete performance, the Bruins could surprise us all.
Photo credits: Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics; University of Michigan, LSU, University of Florida, Cal and the University of Minnesota
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